Thunder Road (2018)

POLARISING: THUNDER ROAD

What kind of film is it than can polarise nine like-minded friends as did Thunder Road (2018)?

Scores ranged from a zero during discussion (later modified to 0.5 during voting) to 4.5.

The table was split by two pass marks (mine makes three); one middle of the road voter, who voted on his way from the movie and couldn’t attend the post-film, and six committed fails. Discussion was robust. Not counting mine, the nine voters gave up 17 points, an average of less than 2 

Writer, director and lead actor Jim Cummings is the reason all this occurred. Cummings, a 31-year-old Texan, extended his Sundance Film Festival-winning short into a feature-length movie. To say his presence is dominant in the film is another under score. Whether he is a one-trick pony or a major talent set to further blossom is anybody’s guess?

He reminded me of a young Jim Carrey, an actor I must say I abhorred until his dramatic portrayal in The Truman Show (1998). Cummings was electric in the role of Jimmy Arnaud a policeman in what looked like a medium-sized US town.

We first see Jimmy at his mother’s funeral where he delivers a 10-minute recitation he thought he had planned so well but which sinks into a skin-crawling cringe for funeral audience and cinema audience alike. His dance to honour his mother, a dance teacher, is done without music because the child’s tape recorder he uses fails to work. It was meant to play Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road and much of the sequence is filmed from the shoulders down. Jimmy’s brain and his feelings are disconnected from his body. 

Many scenes in the rest of the movie are filmed in similar fashion as Cummings highlights at least one other character’s disconnect from society. An early scene of a possibly homeless man ranting near some shops shows the difficulties facing police personnel but is repeated later in the film, this time with Jimmy as the possibly soon-to-be homeless man being surrounded by his colleagues. 

The funeral scene sets the pace for the rest of the film. It is at times excruciating to watch. Jimmy is a decent man but he’s also a very lonely person who pretends everything is going well and wants the world to see it but the only person he’s fooling is himself.  

He is losing parental custody of his pre-teen daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr) to his ex-wife Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer); optimistic that his mother’s dance studio can be viable again; and has major problems at work where his captain wants him to take leave because he can see his colleague unravelling.

His one saving grace is his police partner Nate (Nican Robertson) but even he is driven away by Jimmy’s rage only to return and help his friend return to some small dignity.

Repeating and returning are key features of the narrative. The crazy person car park scene described; Jimmy’s father dying or abandoning his family when the children were young and Rosalind checking out via drugs; Crystal being awestruck at seeing Swan Lake, much like her grandmother would have done, given what we are told; a phone-filmed video of Jimmy’s awkward funeral dance reappears despite Nate getting rid of what Jimmy thought was the only copy; Jimmy’s future as a sole parent juxtaposed against his doubts about the way he turned out in a single-parent family.

It is easy to dislike the Jimmy he becomes, a man filled with rage because he is losing the only thing left to cling to, Crystal. An earlier scene where he interrupts two “slickers” making out with a 16-year-old girl in a parked car shows his worth as a man. Jimmy is protective, convinces the girl that what she is doing is ill-thought out and drives her home. We only see her once more, sitting with her girlfriends at school and watching Jimmy as he drives by. Coincidentally he has just dropped Crystal at the same school and is rebuffed by his daughter when he objects to her holding hands with a boy her age as she walks in. It’s hard to tell if the girl he took home is looking at Jimmy with pity or whether she appreciated what he had done for her?

Cummings’ writing and performance had me squirming in my seat but I still felt for him and that I believe is the merit of Thunder Road

His Jimmy is a lonely man who wants to be loved; a policeman who wants to do his duty; a father who wants to bring up his daughter the best way he can. He tries and mostly falls short but I think audiences, in the main, cared. 

Score: 4

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